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As it turns 100, Union Station looks ahead

October 29, 2014

10/28/2014 2:57 PM | UPDATED:10/28/2014 3:34 PM

Union Station has become Kansas City’s iconic backdrop for many occasions, including this year’s Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.BRIAN DAVIDSON/SPECIAL TO THE STAR

Union Station’s centennial celebration this week focuses not only on looking back but also on looking ahead.

That’s a testimony to how important the building has been to the history of Kansas City — and how essential it is to shaping a brighter future for the city.

The days as a bustling station for train passengers are long over. Yet the building today — 100 years after 100,000 people saw it officially opened on Oct. 30, 1914 — is still busy with activity from morning to night. It plays host to children inside Science City, office workers, civic affairs, restaurant patrons, Amtrak travelers, arts audiences and waves of visitors who want to enjoy the grandly restored facility.

Union Station’s supporters aren’t resting on their laurels. They want to make Science City an even better attraction, woo more special events to the building and offer a stream of audience-friendly exhibits.

And nearby, there are exciting plans for new office buildings, residential units and retail space. Washington Square Park could be reinvigorated. An important part of the city’s urban core has the chance to continue its welcome transformation into a more exciting, vibrant place to live, work and play.

None of this would have happened without the one and only bistate sales tax approved by voters 18 years ago this November. That election created a funding stream from Jackson, Johnson, Clay and Platte counties to help renovate the nearly shuttered station.

The building “is a poster child for how regional cooperation can work,” says Bob Regnier, the station’s board chairman. It’s an excellent point.

After Union Station reopened in late 1999, it suffered through some growing pains that ate up millions of endowment dollars and spurred negative publicity about Science City’s lack of viability.

But over the last five years, Union Station has become much more stable financially. Science City is vastly improved. And the building’s leasable space is fully occupied.

Union Station today has iconic status for many proud Kansas Citians. As the years have rolled by since 1914, the station has played an important role in shaping the future of the city. Remarkably, it still does.